Cabinet moving forward with energy price cap; MP's want it extended to schools
The Cabinet intends to push through with its plans to cap energy prices for average use. The Tweede Kamer wants the government to also look at targeted energy support for schools and cultural institutions because they are also struggling under the sharply increased price of gas and electricity. A parliamentary majority supported this proposal by the D66, PvdA, and GroenLinks.
The Cabinet announced on Budget Day that it would cap the price of gas and electricity for households and small businesses with modest energy consumption. Energy used above the cap will be charged at high market rates. The Cabinet also announced that it is working on an additional support scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with high energy consumption, like bakers, butchers, and greenhouse growers. The Kamer wants schools and cultural institutions included in this.
"People at home already have a little more certainty about their high energy bill," said D66 faction leader Jan Paternotte. "But all schools, theatres, museums, and other cultural institutions often have to pay considerably more for a little warmth. We cannot leave children, young people, culture lovers, and makers out in the cold."
At the insistence of the Tweede Kamer, the Cabinet is prepared to dip into the National Growth Fund to meet two of the parliamentarians’ budget demands. Money from the fund, actually intended for investments in the economy’s growth power, will be used for extra support for SMEs and for making the Westerschedetunnel toll-free.
That realizes the fears of the previous Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra, who warned when the fund was announced three years ago that it could become “a jar of fun things” without the proper demarcation. He stressed that this was not the intention. Prime Minister Mark Rutte also acknowledged that the Groth Fund threatens to become “a grab fund.”
Hoekstra is now Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was absent from the Budget Debate in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament because he attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The current Finance Minister, Sigrid Kaag, already took hundreds of millions from the Growth Fund for additional investments in Defense earlier this year.
The Tweede Kamer wants the Westerscheldetunnel to be toll-free for passenger cars and motorcycles from 2025 at the latest. A majority pledged support for this motion from ChristenUnie, CDA, and SGP. Scrapping the tolls would offer “social and economic benefits” for Zeeland and Zuidwest-Nederland, according to the motion. They also want the Cabinet to consider whether scrapping the toll for freight traffic is “possible and sensible, partly given the risk of a suction effect and extra nitrogen emissions.”
The Westerscheldetunnel connects Zeeuws-Vlaanderen with the rest of the Netherlands. There are significant costs associated with scrapping the toll. Last year, the then Minister of Infrastructure Barbara Visser reported that scrapping the toll in 2022 would cost at least 340 million euros in toll revenues until 2033, when the toll would end.
The Kamer also wants the Ministry of Education to make 100 million euros available from its own budget for free lunches at schools in vulnerable neighborhoods. The proposal from VOLT and D66 received sufficient support. “There are children in the Netherlands who will go to school without food tomorrow,” said D66 faction leader Paternotte. “With an empty stomach in the classroom, that is not acceptable. Nothing should stand in the way of children.” The Cabinet will work on this “sympathetic proposal,” Rutte said.
Reporting by ANP